Height: 68.500 cm
Bequeathed by Charles Townley
GR 1874.7-12.11 (Sculpture 1893)
Room 70: Roman Empire
Marble bust of Trajan
Roman, made in Italy about AD 108-117
In the style of a Hellenistic ruler
The bust, one of many issued to commemorate the emperor Trajan's Decennalia (tenth anniversary of his accession - he reigned AD 98-117), shows him in the style of a Hellenistic ruler, with his upper body bared and his head slightly turned. Trajan was born at Italica near Seville in modern Spain, and was the first non-Italian emperor, reflecting the political and economic shifts taking place within the Roman empire.
Under Trajan the empire reached its greatest extent, with the conquests of Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), and Dacia (modern Romania). The latter was celebrated on Trajan's Column in Rome, which carries the history of the two Dacian wars in a 200 metre long frieze spiralling up the shaft. The column was only one element of an immense complex of forum, basilica (law-court), libraries, shops, and housing built with the proceeds of his conquests. Trajan, however, was not only a very capable commander, but was also renowned for his fairness, good government and wisdom. Elements of these are preserved in his correspondence with the younger Pliny, one of his ablest provincial governors, notably on the subject of early Christian communities. This reputation endured for centuries, and it is this perceived piety which earned Trajan, rather than Augustus, Hadrian or Constantine, a place in the Paradiso of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321).
S. Walker, Greek and Roman portraits (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)